“IT took a few years to really understand what it is I am," says Adam Kashmiry. Growing up in Alexandria, Egypt, the word "transgender" was never mentioned. “I felt like I'm the only person in the world that felt like this," he adds. "It sounds ridiculous now because I know there are trans people all over the place.” Now 26, Kashmiry is talking to me between rehearsals of the National Theatre of Scotland's play, Adam, which is based on his life. With him is Jo Clifford, whose own story, Eve, is also being staged in a double bill of NTS plays exploring "two extraordinary lives in transition".

“That was also my experience,” says Clifford, 67. “Because I was growing up in the 1950s in the UK and there was no understanding, no awareness, no information. I knew nothing. I thought I was the only person in the world. And I thought I was such a sick, corrupt, evil, horrible person for that reason. The only thing I could do with those thoughts was suppress them because it was far too dangerous to express them. It was dangerous for you in your world, Adam. And it was very dangerous for me in mine. I was in a very oppressive boarding school in England.”

On some levels Kashmiry and Clifford couldn’t have had more different journeys. One transitioned to being a female late in life; the other had to escape a conservative country in order to be who he felt he was, a man. But their stories are also strikingly similar. They tell us how cultures oppress those who don't conform to the expectations that revolve around gender. They also reveal how much has changed, in a short time, in Scotland. The NTS's staging of their stories speaks, in itself, of a profound social revolution.

Kashmiry’s journey has been a particularly dangerous one, which saw him leaving Egypt in fear for his life. One of two sisters growing up in a working-class family in Alexandria, Kashmiry hated wearing dresses and, though forced to wear one occasionally, never did so willingly. “I loved guns,” he recalls. “All that dolls and make-up and stuff ... I was never really interested.”

From the age of around 10, he really wished he was a boy. “I remember saying to a friend and neighbour that I would love to be a boy. It was innocent. I thought I would just love to be a boy and play on the street and stay up late.”

But there was no-one he could talk to, and in that conservative Muslim culture, men and women had to conform to strict codes of gender-stereotyped behaviour. Though homosexuality isn’t specifically outlawed in Egypt, LGBT people are frequently convicted under the country’s debauchery laws. And the situation has worsened since the 2013 military intervention which brought Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to power. In the past couple of years, hundreds of LGBT people have been arrested and trans people are frequently harassed and physically abused.

As a child, Kashmiry secretly hoped that on hitting puberty, he would discover that he was intersexual (physiologically male and female), as that would give him licence to be a man. “Because in Egypt the only thing that you're really aware of is intersexual," he says. "But obviously as I grew up my body started to change and it was clear that was not going to happen.”

Kashmiry started to have periods. “I was turning into something I did not see coming. I started to feel attraction to women, and I was like. ‘Oh sh** I'm a lesbian.' Sh** because also that's bad in Egypt.”

There were other feelings too. One was that he did not feel like exploring this developing body at all. At the all-girls’ school he attended as a teenager, he wore trousers, persisting even when they were banned. Though he was grounded, the trousers stayed. “It was just a compulsion. I couldn’t do anything else.”

Aged 18, he got sacked from a job for not dressing as was expected of a female employee, and his life spiralled out of control. “I hit bottom," he says. "I was a drug addict, I was drinking lots of alcohol. I started to take a drug, similar to heroin, and that really changed my personality. Then an incident happened with my dad and I left home.”

At one point, sitting alone in his room, he went online and typed: “Can the soul of a boy be trapped in the body of a girl?” What he found was “videos, articles, everything”, a whole world of explanation for what he, in fact, might be.

At that time, Kashmiry also met a woman he felt understood him, who became his girlfriend. But when a Skype communication between the lovers was discovered by the woman’s family, things took a turn further for the worse. “Her brother wanted to kill me. She was beaten by her brother. From that moment on there was the determination to get me, because I’ve ruined her or something, and dragged her into this.”

Finally Kashmiry’s mother, fearing for his life, advised that he should leave the country. “I was stuck in a bubble of just killing myself with booze and drugs. But she was actually the one who thought outside the bubble. And because her mum died a few years before, she had some money." With this money, she proposed that Kashmiry could travel to another country.

The escape plan took him to London, where he stayed for a while with the wife of a friend, before being made homeless. At the time he didn’t understand what asylum was, but someone he met told him he should make an application. He recalls the day he arrived at the office. “They told me to sit down and I sat down and cried for hours. I went there at 10am and I was still there at 8pm. Then they took me in a van somewhere, to some detention centre.” Kashmiry was there for several weeks, before he was taken by van to Glasgow, and the YMCA buildings then in Springburn.

Today, Kashmiry is on hormones and has transitioned. Not long after he got refugee status, five years ago, he appeared in Here We Stay, a community theatre project created by the Scottish Refugee Council. It was there that Cora Bisset, director of Adam, heard his story, and thought that it needed to be made into a play.

From there the idea generated to create a partner show, Eve, the story of renowned playwright Jo Clifford’s struggle with the body and gender rules she was born into. Clifford’s shows, such as the controversial The Gospel Of Jesus Queen Of Heaven, in which Jesus is portrayed as a transgender woman, are always deeply personal, though normally she “disguises” aspects of her own life.

“There's no disguise here," she says of Eve, "which makes it difficult to perform. Sometimes I find myself crying because the emotion connected to some very painful thing in the past suddenly comes up.”

Clifford's journey towards her trans identity has taken place over many decades. It included marriage to a woman she says accepted her for who she was, through being a hands-on father to two daughters, and while working as a bus driver, a yoga teacher, a nurse, and a playwright.

Clifford self-identifies as “trans” rather than a woman, and as “non-binary” – in other words, not particularly one gender or the other. “I live as a woman,” she says, “because that’s the only option this world allows me at the moment.”

“My daughters are just amazing," she adds, "because they will call me Dad and refer to me as 'she' in the same sentence, without the slightest strain. And my wee grandson is calling me Grandma, at the same time as his mum is calling me Dad.”

It was as a young boy, then called John Clifford, attending Clifton College, that she first began to work out her feelings. “One of the stories I tell in the show,” she says, “is how it was through acting female roles in school plays that I discovered, as a teenager, I would be happier living as a woman. But the shame of all that completely blocked acting for me, and made theatre itself a place of fear and shame. So there's a whole long journey towards the fact that here I am now, on the Traverse stage.”

Later, she would meet feminist writer Sue Innes, the wife with whom she would live, till Innes's death in 2006, and raise daughters, always defying gender conventions. Clifford recalls at one point, during the early 1980s, wheeling a buggy down the high street in Rosslyn and feeling “like I was the only man for miles around doing that, the only man taking his children to mother and toddler groups”. Only after Innes died, in 2006, did Clifford decide to live as a woman.

The show includes photographs of Clifford at various stages of her life. “It’s very strange looking at photographs of my old self during rehearsal,” she says. Does she feel the person in the photos is her? “I knew lots of people when I was living as a man, who were trans during the weekend," she says. "They kind of split themselves in two; I resolved never to do that. I was always who I was, trying to hold it all together.”

Clifford never wanted to have full gender reassignment surgery. But once she started hormone treatment “there was a hormonal war going on within me”.

“My testicles were producing one set of hormones which were being blocked by a drug, and then I was taking female hormones," she recalls. "My body was in a state of war and I wanted that war to be over. Having your testicles removed is a very simple operation and I had that.”

Clifford wants to help lift the shame from people's lives. "Eve is quite a militant show in a quiet kind of way," she says. "The profound shame that trans people can suffer causes you to hide away from the world. Eve is about the opposite, about coming out, expressing pride in who I am, in who we all are. It's an expression of solidarity."

The play reaches out to everyone, however, "because the struggle we've had to try and find ourselves is very like the struggle everyone has to go through to find out who we really are”.

Both Kashmiry and Clifford marvel at the revolution that has happened in Scotland and other countries in recent years. “I often feel that people like us are like the vanguard of a kind of a gender army that is changing people’s perception," says Clifford. "When this play goes on, it will affect people. It will reach more people. It’s not the kind of revolution that we’re used to, which is men with guns and bombs. It’s different. But people are now open to this in a way that would have been unthinkable even five years ago.”

Performances of Eve and Adam will run at the Traverse throughout the Edinburgh Fringe Festival from July 30 to August 27 and then at the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow from September 13-16

Full information at www.nationaltheatrescotland.com